Picture this: you’re managing a business that relies on field workers, the company is growing rapidly, customers are calling left and right, and you’re on a hiring spree to keep up with demand.
This is the honeymoon period, and more often than not, managers don’t realize how quickly that growth can turn into missed appointments, overworked employees, and poor cash-flow because of the added strain on inventory. By this point, managers are looking for a lifeline. Fortunately, that’s where field service management software enters the scene.
First of all, let’s get one thing straight about field service software: Google Calendar isn’t one. Sure, it’s a great way to organize your meetings, but you’ll need a lot more than that when it comes to scheduling multiple teams, optimizing routes according to field locations, and offering a field service customer experience that blows the competition out of the water. Naturally, this should make you wonder how your business could benefit from field service management software, and what you should consider before purchasing it.
What is field service management software?
No two field service software tools are made equally. Some come as free apps for single users or micro-companies, while others are fully customizable and target enterprises. Then, there’s everything that falls in the middle. If you’re looking for your first field service digital tool or upgrading from an existing one that you’ve outgrown, you should check if your software shortlist has these essential features:
- Work order management
- Mobile app for field employees
- Customer relationship management
- Job costing, invoicing, and inventory management
- Real-time vehicle tracking
These features together ensure that you get a well-rounded field service management solution that will help you withstand the growing pains that come with getting your business off the ground.
Why do you need a field service management software?
The main benefits of field service management software are likely already apparent to you: scheduling and communicating with out-of-office workers is simplified, assets and spare parts are tracked to avoid losses, reports are clearer and more accurate, etc. But there are also subtler things that you should know before you actually start using FSM software.
If you’ve ever seen a glowing review of a competitor you know isn’t as skilled as you, you’ve probably wondered, “Why do people like this company so much?” The answer is most likely that they offer an excellent customer experience. With the help of some minor perks like allowing customers to book themselves in via an online booking portal, sending automatic appointment notifications, providing them with customer-facing tracking portals (similar to Uber’s user interface), and having a smooth, fast process of moving through the buying journey, the actual quality of work takes a backseat in the customer’s mind.
“Customer experience is the new brand,” writes business leader Shep Hyken for Forbes, and while it’s not something you want to hear—after all, you’re probably proud of the high-quality service you provide—but the truth is that experience trumps product these days. The same goes for service.
More often than not, if you’re running a plumbing or HVAC company, neither residential or commercial customers will be able to tell a great job from an average one. However, they’re certain to remember a remarkable experience where they didn’t have to chase their service provider for days just to get an invoice or take a whole day off of work to sit around and wait for a technician. Even if your work truly is the best, a poor customer experience can be detrimental.
Most companies have realized that this memorable experience is difficult if not impossible to offer without software that helps to store and sift through all the necessary data. Not to mention, for the companies that deal mostly with commercial clients (and the whole tendering process that comes with them), having software that guarantees transparency and accountability is a prerequisite, almost as much as following field service business automation best practices is.
When should you get a new field service management software?
This should be obvious, but the answer isn’t “when you’re desperate.” In the opening of this article, we mentioned the struggling manager reaching for a software shaped-lifeline. However, software should be the boat that helps your company sail more comfortably over the seas, not a last-minute lifeline when you’re already drowning.
Ideally, to make sure you’re prepared to implement FSM software, you should sit down with the main stakeholders (and the employees whose roles will be most affected by introducing a new tool), make a list of what they think is important, then research your options extensively.
Depending on how large your company is, the decision process should take at least several weeks. After all, a software solution will impact the very core of your business and you need to minimize disruption as much as possible.
What should you consider before buying field service software for your company?
Your main considerations should be the user experience, online reviews, quality of support, how often the software updates, and how robust the training and knowledge base is.
The user experience
Just because a software ticks all the feature boxes you want doesn’t mean it’s your best option. Think of it as the difference between fast food and a Michelin restaurant: both will keep you from being hungry but the quality is what really sets them apart. It’s the same with software and follows the thinking highlighted earlier, where experience trumps product.
The user experience is what sets great software apart and will have a direct impact on your employees’ wellbeing. Poor user experience doesn’t simply refer to software crashing but also includes those instances where it’s slow, difficult to navigate, or hard to understand.
All of these factors lead to frustrated employees and disappointed customers, defeating the purpose of getting software in the first place. It’s usually what happens when managers are desperate for a solution of any kind so they simply pick the first name that comes up in a Google search and run with it. Doing your homework is vital, which takes us to the next point, online reviews.
There’s no such thing as reading too many reviews before investing in field service management software. It’s one of the best ways of seeing how businesses similar to yours have dealt with issues that you might be struggling with and to what extent the software helped.
If you’re unsure of how to assess things like ease of use or the quality of support, G2’s field service management software category has you covered, while job search websites like Glassdoor can reveal the culture behind the company you’re getting ready to do business with. High turnover and unhappy staff will not make for a good partner, which is what you’re looking for in a software vendor.
This being said, negative user reviews can be very insightful, so don’t forget to read those too. Don’t dismiss a lower-rated option before seeing the reason behind the rating. Some reviews can be unfair (e.g. the product was not a good fit for the type of business, rather than intrinsically being of poor quality), while views on pros and cons can be subjective.
There are users who will be happy with an integrated vehicle tracking feature and think it’s a great add-on that saves them from spending more money on a separate product. Other users, however, will expect the same level of functionality from this add-on as if it were a dedicated product, therefore they’ll be left unsatisfied. You can tell how good the customer service and company culture are by the responses left on these negative reviews, as well.
Quality of support
There are few things more frustrating than sitting on hold for hours, waiting for someone to explain why your expensive software isn’t working. Many field service software providers can impress prospects with a remarkable pre-purchase experience, but fail later on when the lead has already converted (i.e. the money is in the bag) and they’re suffering from post-implementation issues.
Unfortunately, this is not an easy thing to foresee until it’s too late and you’ve actually been put on hold for a while. One solution is, again, reading the reviews and scouring them for support-related complaints. An excellent service provider won’t just solve your issues, but help you prevent them from happening again, take your suggestions into account, and promptly answer any email queries. Moreover, an experienced customer support team will be able to share tips and tricks they’ve learned along the way from other businesses similar to yours.
How often it updates
Often overlooked, the frequency at which a field service software provider releases updates is proof of their commitment to innovating and improving the existing product. As a manager or a business owner, you also go through business re-hauls where you introduce more efficient processes, so you should expect the same from your software partners. There’s no such thing as perfection and seeing that a provider strives to improve on a continuous basis is a sign of trust.
That being said, beware of field service software providers that release new features constantly and never go back to update the old. This shows that they’re more committed to quantity rather than quality and there’s no guarantee that the plethora of features they offer will come with the right support expertise or the level of functionality they promise. It’s difficult to balance these different types of updates but once you find a software that can do both, you can trust that they invest in product development just as much as they invest in sales and marketing.
How extensive their training and knowledge base is
It’s normal for field service companies to make do with free software or mobile apps in their first year or so, but when investing in a professional product, they often go in expecting more features with the same learning curve. Sadly, this is not how it works. Field service software can be simple enough for anyone to use without training or complex enough to run your business, but not both.
Even if a tech-savvy user can figure out how to use a product, that doesn’t mean they’re using it the right way and making the most of it, which is what it all comes down to. High-quality training is what gets you a good return on investment.
Professional software isn’t cheap, so expectations of a significantly increased efficiency are justified. Assuming you went for a high-quality product from a trusted vendor, your new software will have a lot of options. Its designers aimed for the software to grow with your company. This way, it can serve you for as long as possible. If your team only uses 10% of these options because they don’t really know what to do with the other 90%, it means that a majority of your investment is going nowhere. Investing in training is a one-off event that ensures you your money’s worth for as long as you plan to use the software.
Are you using the best software in its field?
Investing in field service management software will always be a big decision. As a final take away, make sure to consider these five things before taking the plunge:
- The design interface is important: you don’t want to use a frustrating tool.
- Always check reviews (even negative ones), as they are a good indicator of quality.
- Remember that an experienced support team can make even bad days a breeze.
- Worthwhile, regular updates mean the software will be able to grow with you.
- A good training and development program will teach your staff how to solve complex challenges efficiently and maximize ROI.